Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction 25th Annual Collection

This is the latest edition of the annual collection edited by Gardner Dozois. Pretty good overall.

Really liked these stories
“Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear. The story of a marooned war robot, the refugee boy it helps raise, and the arduous yet simple homage it seeks to pay to its fallen human comrades. Original and touching.

"Alien Archaeology” by Neal Asher. Gritty, interesting look at a future involving a cold war with aliens, a black market in both ancient and corrupt alien technology, criminals, and some espionage.

“The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang. Marvelously thoughtful and interesting take on time travel, fate, and Allah's will set in the Caliphate from the perspective of a devout Muslim. I've never read a bad story by Ted Chiang.

“Finisterra” by David Moles. A lyrical and weird story about outcasts and criminals living on giant floating animals. The science is improbable and not well explained, but the writing and characterizations are strong and have excellent style.

"Sanjeev and Robotwallah” by Ian McDonald. An interesting take on young soldiers tele-operating war drones in future India and the hard truths they are forced to confront. Evokes a distinctive sense of place.

“The Mists of Time” by Tom Purdom. A time-travel story that is more about rescuing an overlooked period of history, when the British Navy played a dangerous game, stopping slave runners on the high seas in pursuit of both prize money and abolition. But it has just enough science fiction elements in it to warrant inclusion.

“Steve Fever” by Greg Egan. A lot of Egan's work frankly goes over my head, but this story of what happens after a dying scientist named Steve puts his consciousness into a nanobot swarm that keeps replicating and briefly infecting humans to get them to pursue the fruitless task of resurrecting him was quirky and interesting.

Also Liked, But to a Lesser Degree

Liked “Saving Tiamat” by Gwyneth Jones, “The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small” by Chris Roberson (more alternate history than science fiction), “Glory” by Greg Egan, “ “Kiosk” by Bruce Sterling, ““The Accord” by Keith Brooke and “Sledge-Maker’s Daughter” by Alastair Reynolds, and “Dark Heaven” by Gregory Benford.

Did Not Like

Michael Swanwick’s “The Sky-Sailor’s Tale." As usual for Swanwick, this came across as a rather pretentious, achronological mish-mash of a story with no clear point in which interesting ideas are tossed before the reader without being developed and boring mundanities like the menu at a large dinner are presented in excruciating detail. For me, reading Swanwick is like looking at modern art installations and wondering what the hell the point was supposed to be.

Stephen Baxter’s “Last Contact." Slow and dull, with characters that were not offensive so much as uninteresting. Again, similar to the other Baxter stories and novels I've read (well, I never actually finished his novels).

Robert Reed’s “Roxie." This bothered me not because it was badly written, but because it was not science fiction and it dealt entirely with a guy reminiscing about his many years of love for a dog that, to be honest, sounded annoying, as did his lack of concern for how his animal worried the neighbors. I wouldn't have wanted to live next door to either of them. This should have been in a mainstream fiction collection not this one, and I would gladly have not read it.

Nancy Kress’s “Laws of Survival." Wow. This story read like it had been written by somebody heavily drugged. There was nothing really compelling or believable about the premise or the action--even for a science fiction story it required me to suspend too much of my disbelief. It would have been perfect as a bad sci-fi television episode. "Imagine in a future in which powerful aliens land on Earth and create massive impenetrable domes staffed by robots with limited English and miracle technology, which they then use to imprison a refugee woman to have her train stray dogs to act as surrogate hosts for alien grubs." I kid you not. Now make the story really long. Nancy Kress wrote an interesting book about characterization, and I've liked some of her short stories in the past, but the last few stories I've read, as well as the practically unreadable novel Probability Moon, have not impressed me at all.

Robert Silverberg’s “Against the Current.” The story of a guy moving backwards through time. A couple good notes about currency and that's about it. This could have been told in 500 words or less and it would have been better, though it would still have lacked a conclusion or a memorable main character. More evocative descriptions of his passage might have saved this.

Overall Rating for the Anthology: 4.5/5.0 for the number of good stories.

No comments: